Old & New @ Nagano

What a tempestuous weather looming over us right now. An image of stormy waves washing away railway tracks in Exeter area, shown repeatedly on various news channels since this morning, is so ghastly and depressing. Apart from those awe-inspiring spectacles, such as cliffs being pounded by humongous surf or banks awash with foaming sea water from all directions, there are people who are dog-tired of laying out sandbags and having to deal with the aftermath of flooding. I desperately hope the UK will be storm-free for the rest of the winter and it will give a respite to the long-suffering local people. Weather-wise, what an awful winter for so may of them so far.

My two years absence from Nagano brought me a few surprises. The emergence of new shops was one thing, the staying power of old shops was another. During my stroll, I was glad to find that the familiar shop fronts from my childhood were still gracing along the main street…

A fruit seller near the Niō-mon. The scale and appearance of the stall was virtually unchanged for decades…

20140205-174431.jpg

I imagine their right to trade within the Zenkō-ji compound must be hereditary and protected from any new commercial development. Otherwise, who could survive this long without not selling much like this…

This shop in Daimon area sold all sorts of Japanese knick-knacks. Ceramic pots, cups, pitchers, dishes & plates, porcelain figurines in all sizes, materials & shapes, tea towels, woven baskets, iron kettles, wallets, small luggage, handkerchiefs, etc…

20140205-174529.jpg

The shop would be a godsend for anyone who ran out of the idea for souvenirs home. They stocked a variety of cute Japanese things at reasonable prices.

The placard says “From proper-fat, semi-fat to semi-skinny, we provide for all sizes”…

20140205-174624.jpg

This clothing shop on Chuō-douri, I had never seen anyone in there. The items on sale were perpetually the same, targeting local old people who would clad in subdued tones of browns and murky greens. I guess they must own a shop plot for generations. How do they make enough profit to keep this shop stay opened, I have no idea.

This shop by the west entrance of Gondō was filled with toys for kids of all ages…

20140205-174712.jpg

Their shop window was covered with their merchandise. From Japanese anime figures to posters of nostalgic American silver screen stars, the items on offer were diverse. The shop reminded me an Otaku (おたく/オタク)’s bedroom.

When it came to traditional toyshops there were a couple of them near Gondō arcade.

This shop was specialised in Igo (囲碁).

20140205-181313.jpg

The game was invented in China more than 2500 years ago and has many enthusiasts, especially amongst retired Japanese men. Those wooden game tables were surprisingly pricy – costed between ¥65000 to ¥190000.

Now, I know what they are made from!
Their display showed what how the game chips were made…

20140205-181516.jpg

They were made from shells of giant clams. No wonder they were so expensive!

The next door was Japanese doll shop…

20140205-181659.jpg

About these attractive objects on display with hanging figures, I had no idea what they were for. I guess they were for babies? They may be meant to amuse them while they lie in cots?

There were also a few new addition to the vicinity of Zenkō-ji.

A monument for Nagano Olympic Game stood rather forlornly…

20140205-174836.jpg

The XVIII Winter Olympics which was held in Nagano 1998. What it brought was not only worldwide attention to this quiet city for two weeks but also an enormous change which ended up altering the way local people lived forever. By motorway and bullet trains, the distance between Tokyo and Nagano was significantly shortened physically and mentally. However, the process made Nagano more or less like one of Tokyo’s satellite cities and diluted the city’s identity.
In a few days time, Sochi 2014 will light their cauldron. I wonder what effect will Sochi bear as the result.

Another new business I noticed was Jinriki-sha (人力車) – a rickshaw operated by two persons…

20140205-174955.jpg

While one rickshaw driver pulled the cart, his partner pushed it from the rear. Since the streets around Zenkō-ji were all uphill and downhill, having two personnels would make the ride more comfortable and safer. A 40 minutes ride for ¥4500 doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Fit For Life…

Is it jet lag?
Ever since being back from Japan, I wake up very early and feel dead-tired in the afternoon. It has been affecting me so much that If I am not disciplined, I will climb into bed in no time and fall asleep instantly! Having said that, the time I open my eyes is nudging closer to more sociable hours every morning. Therefore, I should be truly back in UK, mentally & physically, very soon.

Thinking about one’s equilibrium, there was an occurrence which made me realise how important to keep your mind & body active in order to lead a healthy & fulfilling life.
It happened on one cold but dry evening in Nagano, I took my mum and aunt for dinner in downtown. Instead of ordering a cab, we decided to walk to the bus-stop on Daimon through Zenkō-ji since we needed to work up our appetite…

20140123-151130.jpg

On a way to Zenkō-ji, mum & I were shocked to discover how frail my aunt had become.
Despite the fact she was 3 years younger than mum, a sedentary lifestyle she had been leading for the past few years clearly took its toll. Her stride was a shuffle and her balance was precariously bad. ‘Shall we catch a cab?’, I was worried if she might stumble and hurt herself. Aunt paused and then expressed how dismayed she was about her own physical state, ‘I am so unfit!’
Unfortunately, there was no taxi or bus due to a traffic restriction around Zenkō-ji compound so we kept on walking slowly. Time to time, mum lent her elbow to aunt when they had to negotiate uneven & slippery parts of the promenade…

20140124-085505.jpg

Over the dinner, aunt vowed that she would amend her lifestyle for the sake of regaining fitness.
Unlike Tokyo’s or London’s, Nagano’s winter is harsh. The mercury in the city plunges the lowest amongst any other areas’ except Hokkaido. Therefore, it is not always easy to stick to one’s fitness regime, even for the one, fit as a fiddle.
During my stay in Nagano, I tried to go for a walk as often as the weather permitted. Donning a few layers of clothing and a pair of sheepskin insoles in my boots, I still had to steel myself against icy air every time I open the front door. With the winter climate being so inhospitable, I could understand why my aunt decided to stay indoor all day.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll find a way somehow’, aunt reassured me while sipping a small glass of sake. Concerned mum reminded her over and over how she must be patient but also diligent when it came to getting fit. She was worried if aunt would do too much too soon and hurt herself. Knowing her tendency to be reckless, mum’s apprehensiveness was perfectly legitimate.
Oh well, I shall give aunt a call time to time so I can check on her progress and also give my encouragement. Being fit & active physically as well as mentally is a key to our daily happiness and we all must thrive for it no matter how slow the progress may be…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

New Year Day @ Zenkō-ji

On the afternoon of New Year’s Day, Mum & I agreed that we were in need of some fresh air, therefore, we donned warm clothing and sauntered to Zenkō-ji.
On the way, I saw a pair of huge trees standing, assisted by steel supports at Yubuku Shrine. Mum explained to me how the trees were struck by lightning one summer and the impact was felt even by her at home 10 minutes walk away from the shrine. The trees had to be trimmed in order to make them safe. Just imagining from the size of the remaining trunks, they must have been gigantic trees…

20140103-080152.jpg

We arrived at Zenkō-ji and found the promenade choking with worshippers…

20140103-080257.jpg

The orderly crowd was waiting in queue to enter Hondō shrine. However the queue was stretched as far as Sanmon Gate and beyond…

20140103-080417.jpg

Within the temple compound, kiosks selling talismans and fortune slips were everywhere…

20140103-080602.jpg

They came in various forms. Arrows for warding off evil spirit and bamboo rakes for gathering fortune…

20140103-081047.jpg

The staffs seemed very busy, being called up from all directions…

20140103-081152.jpg

Next to the kiosk, I came across this dog looking thoroughly bored. He / she stood there with the air of resignation while its owners hotly disputing what charm they should buy in order to improve fortune this year…

20140103-081312.jpg

The area around the promenade closer to Hondō shrine was all blocked off as a part of crowd managements. So we were forced to walk around the boundary and join the Sando Promenade at the intersection…

20140103-081450.jpg

Though not as packed as around Hondō, the pavement was brimful of visitors…

20140103-081600.jpg

“Goheimochi” on sale…

20140103-081656.jpg

Goheimochi is made of mashed steamed sticky rice and miso paste. Mashed and hand-formed rice is skewered with a bamboo stick and grilled over the flame. Once cooked, sweetened miso paste is spread over the rice ball lollipop and sold as Japanese street food.
Mum & I wanted to try them but there was a long queue in front of the shop front so we gave up and walked on.

A couple in kimono…

20140103-081910.jpg

We reached Niōmon Gate and found crowds of people still pouring in towards Hondō…

20140103-082038.jpg

We realised that there would be no chance of finding any cafe for a mid-afternoon snack. So we headed back home.
On our way home, we came across this sight…

20140103-082150.jpg

A row of cars were queuing for a pay car park near the temple. How long did they would have to wait in their cars, we had no idea. From the amount of the visitors we saw at the temple, they would probably have to wait more than an hour. We hoped if they could make it to Hondō before it closed at 5 pm…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

On The Sando Promenade

From Hondō (the Main Hall) to the south entrance of the Zenkō-ji temple complex, a 300 years old pavement stretches over the distance of 450m. Allegedly, this 8m wide promenade comprises 7777 paving stones even though I’ve never counted them.

After making sure the dog returned to the owner, I climbed down the steps of Sanmon Gate and headed south…

20140102-092625.jpg

Souvenir shops lined along the promenade, tempting passers-by with various offerings…

20140102-092736.jpg

At most of the shop fronts, merchandise was piled up high or clustered together in abundance…

20140102-093007.jpg

20140102-093032.jpg

One shop displayed Chitose Ame – thin long boiled sweet customarily sold around the 15th November, celebrating children’s health growth…

20140102-093146.jpg

These cans & pouches were Shichimi Tougarashi – 7 spices flavoured chilli powder, one of Nagano’s well-known produces…

20140102-093408.jpg

Apples & bags of boiled sweet…

20140102-093530.jpg

Buddhist prayer beads in various materials and colours…

20140102-093626.jpg

Ceramic cups to adorn a domestic Buddhist altar…

20140102-093726.jpg

Toys for children on display.
Some were modern…

20140102-093833.jpg

And some were more old-fashioned…

20140102-094002.jpg

Bags in the barrels were Nozawana – pickled turnip green, a famous produce of Mozawa hot spring village, north-west of Nagano City…

20140102-094121.jpg

Piled up next to the bunch of umbrellas were boxes of Soba noodle, another well-reputed produce of Nagano…

20140102-094328.jpg

Some offered refreshments to tourists and locals alike. Soft ice cream in Matcha (green tea) flavour, steamed sweet or savoury buns, etc…

20140102-094624.jpg

Upon arriving at Niōmon Gate, I turned back to see Hondō once again…

20140102-094728.jpg

Then, turned towards downtown…

20140102-095041.jpg

Now, I must hurry to the supermarket before sunset…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

A Dog & Sanmon Gate

After paying my respect at the main hall, I headed towards the Sanmon Gate…

20140101-090956.jpg

The gate underwent a 5 year long restoration work which finally completed in 2007. It houses five wooden Buddhist statues (not available for public viewing), as well as a plaque with calligraphy by the Imperial prince.

When I reached at the Sanmon Gate, a lone dog overtook me…

20140101-091519.jpg

He had this mischievous expression which I found irresistible.

20140101-091802.jpg

The dog seemed to be preoccupied with inspecting the scent around this particular pillar…

20140101-093256.jpg

Once having satisfied with his investigation, he trotted to the edge of the stone slab where it met downward steps and looked out, standing like a wolf on the boulder.
Then, an old man with a blue leash in hand appeared and called him, ‘Come back, you!’

20140101-093438.jpg

The dog turned towards the direction from where the voice came but showed no willingness to obey…

20140101-093626.jpg

I think you should go back to your daddy before embarrassing him any further. He is loosing face in front of all the people…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Blog at WordPress.com.